With the 112th session of Congress less than a month old, Montana's two U.S. senators have wasted no time to renew their efforts to provide a buffer from energy development along the western border of Glacier National Park.
On Monday the two, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, reintroduced the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2011. The measure would ban mining and oil and gas development on federal lands in the North Fork Flathead drainage, which forms the park's western boundary.
As written, the legislation does not impede timber production, hunting or fishing, and has the support of a broad coalition of Montana businesses, local officials and conservation groups.
“As Montanans, we have a connection to the land that unites us, but also requires us to act as stewards of our outdoor heritage. We’re pushing to build on the success we’ve had getting companies to retire oil and gas development leases in the North Fork at no cost to taxpayers,” said Sen. Baucus in a prepared release. “Places like the North Fork attract tourists, businesses and jobs to our state. This bill sends a signal far and wide that we’re going to fight to protect all the things that make Montana such a great place to live, work and raise a family.”
It was just about a year ago that officials from British Columbia and Montana finalized an agreement to collaborate on protecting the environment of the Flathead River Basin from energy development. The agreement not only is designed to safeguard Glacier National Park in Montana and Waterton Lakes National Park in British Columbia from environmental contamination, but goes further, promising that the two will work on climate change issues as well as renewable energy solutions.
“There are few places on earth like the North Fork when it comes to hunting, fishing, hiking and camping—but Montanans understand that protecting these areas is about more than just our outdoor heritage,” Sen. Tester, chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, said Monday. “It’s about setting aside a place where we can pass on our Montana values to our kids and our grand-kids. This legislation is another step toward making sure future generations will be able to continue enjoying all of the outdoor opportunities Montana has to offer.”
The legislation was applauded by business leaders near Glacier.
“Glacier National Park and the North Fork River Valley play a very important part in our economic vitality. Flathead Lake also serves as a critical economic engine for the region. The Chamber wishes to ensure that Glacier Park, the North Fork River, and Flathead Lake remain as economically productive as they are today. We thank Sens. Baucus and Tester for their work to bring forward this important bill,” said Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner.
Whitefish Mayor Mike Jenson hailed the senators’ fight to reintroduce this legislation.
“This protection has been a long time coming and we greatly appreciate our senators’ efforts and perseverance,” Mayor Jenson said. “This bill also provides some very important protections for the City of Whitefish’s watershed and continues our efforts and those of private landowners in our watershed to safeguard this vital resource.”
At the National Parks Conservation Association, Tony Jewett, the group's vice president for regional operations, called the senators' efforts "great news for Montana and for one of America’s greatest national parks."
"Senator Baucus and Senator Tester just about got this critical protection piece to the finish line last year and we hope for quick passage this year,” continued Mr. Jewett. “We commend them for their persistence, leadership and commitment to protecting this special place. It’s both a part of our cultural heritage and an essential piece of the economic health of Glacier’s gateway communities.”
For the past 30 years, Sen. Baucus has been a steady and strong voice to protect the North Fork of the Flathead River, beginning with his successful 1975 proposal to designate the Flathead as a Wild and Scenic River. To date, Sens. Baucus and Tester have successfully negotiated the return of more than 200,000 acres held by energy companies near Montana's North Fork of the Flathead River.